How to Tell if Your Mattress Is Too Firm – Mattress Firmness Symptoms

Last Updated on 15 Jun. 2020

An excessively firm mattress can lead to body pains and even insomnia when the discomfort gets out of hand. But how can you tell when your mattress is too firm?

You’ll know that your mattress is excessively firm when you wake up with stiff joints, experience persistent backaches, fail to sink-in when climbing into bed, and develop insomnia due to sleep-related discomfort.

Read on as we discuss some of the main symptoms of a firm mattress and the steps you can take to make it softer and start getting a night of better sleep.

Because while stomach sleepers get on great with a firm mattress, us back and side sleepers tend to have a more difficult time on firmer surfaces and need that plush comfort layer.

No Sinkage When You Lie on the Mattress

A brand new mattress will allow for little sinkage. However, over time, your mattress should start to sink-in gradually and contour to your body. Failing to sink-in even after weeks or months of continued use should act as a warning sign that perhaps your mattress is stiffer than required.

Buying from a trusted brand is advisable, especially if you have persistent back and joint problems. While these mattresses might be firm when new, they usually adapt to your body and soften up within a few weeks.

  Man CHecking mattress firmness

Morning Stiffness

If your joints and muscles stiffen up whenever you wake up, chances are your mattress is too firm.

A study on sleeping patterns by Mayo Clinic revealed that firm mattresses tend to increase pains for patients with scoliosis or arthritis.

Side sleepers, for instance, are likely to wake up with stiff knees and shoulders when sleeping on firm mattresses. Your neck will also be stiff and painful if exposed to an excessively firm mattress repeatedly.

Severe Backache

Did you know that a firm mattress can exacerbate your back pain? Especially lower back pain. Contrary to what most experts advised before the increased use of therapeutic memory foam mattresses, a firm mattress can leave your back feeling extremely strained and worn out!

Therefore, if your back pain worsens after buying a new mattress, it is probably firmer than required. You might have to either change your mattress or soften it up based on the tips we will provide later in the article.

Increased Tossing and Turning

A mattress is too firm if instead of enhancing your comfort during sleep, it leads to increased tossing and turning. While an extremely soft mattress can also lead to sleep discomfort, adjusting to sleeping on a firm one can prove extra challenging.

The low sink-in rate in firm mattresses prevents your back, neck, and joints from settling in smoothly and adjusting to the mattress design. This might lead to distorted sleeping patterns. That is, you might find yourself waking up more times during the night, which should be a concern if you’re usually a sound sleeper.


In case you struggle to get some shut-eye in your new mattress, then perhaps its firmness rating is too high. It is normal to have sleeping problems when changing from a soft to a firmer mattress. However, this should not persist for too long as sleep deprivation is detrimental to your well-being.

If you prefer sleeping on the couch, we recommend switching to a softer mattress to prevent insomnia from making your extra grumpy.


A firm mattress can lead to increased cases of arm or foot numbness. Unlike soft designs, excessively firm mattresses rarely contour to the user’s body; this explains your tingly foot or dead arm whenever you wake up.

Increased numbness can make it hard to get out of bed. If the extent of numbness is severe, it might take longer for your body to readjust and consequently ruin your morning routine.

Why Is My Mattress So Firm?

Your mattress might be firm due to the reasons indicated below.

Newness: A new mattress will have a tough surface that’ll soften up after repeated use.

Room Temperature: Temperature can also increase the firmness of your mattress (especially memory foam mattresses). The cells in memory foam mattresses are designed to conform to each user’s unique sleeping curves.

As a result, these cells allow for pressure-point relief and spine alignment. This feature makes them easily affected by temperature changes. An increase in temperature makes them soften up while a decrease leads to contraction, thus making them firmer.

The Foundation You Use: Foundations are crucial in determining the extent of firmness in mattresses. Each type of mattress has an ideal foundation. For instance, innerspring mattresses go well with box springs. Using wooden slat frames on hybrid or coiled spring mattresses can lead to an undesired level of firmness.

Poor Quality: A low-quality mattress can either be too soft or too firm. Purchasing a low-quality mattress will most likely worsen your pre-existing physical problems or lead to new back or joint complications.

How to Make Your Firm Mattress Softer

Most firm mattresses will soften up after regular use. We recommend observing the following tips to break into your new mattress and make it contour to your body.

Give Your Mattress Time to Adjust to Your Body

All mattresses need time to break-in. The break-in period can last for anywhere between one month to even three. As a result, you need to be patient enough to allow your mattress to adjust to your body weight and size. Keep using your mattress without fail, and it’ll break in soon enough!

Allow Your Mattress Time to Breathe

Avoid dressing up your new mattress immediately when it gets home. Instead, we recommend allowing it enough time, say a couple of hours to breathe effectively before use. Oxygen penetration is integral to your comfort during sleep, especially on the first nights after purchase.

Apply Extra Pressure

Breaking-in doesn’t have to take ages if you fasten the process by putting some extra weight on your new mattress. Consider walking gently on the surface of your memory foam mattress to have it soften up. We also advise making extra use of your mattress to fasten the break-in process. That is, don’t shy from using it as your chill-spot during the day.

Increase Room Temperature

Memory foam responds to temperature increase or decrease. Due to this, you might find it harder to break into your mattress during the cold season. To fasten the break-in process, consider turning up the bedroom radiator. Layering up the mattress with heavy duvets will help to retain warmth and consequently, soften your firm mattress.

Flip Your Mattress

Turning your mattress regularly will help you to fasten the softening process. The lower side is usually softer due to the pressure exerted on the mattress by your body. Therefore, flipping your mattress after a week or two ensures that you sleep on the softer side, which translates to increased comfort during sleep.

Consider Adding a Mattress Topper

Some mattresses take ages to soften up, meaning you must find alternative ways to make nights comfortable. Adding a mattress topper will help make the surface softer. Since toppers come in different sizes, firmness levels, and depths, you can easily find one that perfectly satisfies your needs.


In addition to reducing the quality of sleep, an excessively firm mattress can also lead to joint and back problems. Keeping an eye on firmness symptoms can help you take the necessary measures and soften your mattress up.

Consider changing your foundation as you switch to a new type of mattress. You should also put extra pressure on your new mattress and keep using it regularly to ensure it breaks-in in the shortest time possible.

Observing the discussed mattress-softening tips will help you break-in to your firm mattress in no time, and enjoy those lengthy, comfortable nights you so badly crave.

And if you’ve recently bought a new mattress that’s too firm then take a look online and see if you can find a return policy, some mattresses have a return window so you’d be able to send it back and get a new one that’s the right firmness. I’ve reviewed mattresses at a few different firmness levels which I’ve linked to below.

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